Thursday, March 12, 2020

Crater Lake Rim

What a difference a week or two makes! Glen and I had gone snowshoeing at Crater Lake nearly two weeks prior and the weather was so bad that I left the camera in the car and just snowshoed. That's like only the second time ever I intentionally left the camera behind to protect it from the elements, so you know the weather had to be dire. On that day, the wind was howling, wet snow filled the air, and the lake was hidden from view by inclement weather. It was a great and awesome hike! Because we were both properly clad in snow gear, we were actually quite toasty warm as we trudged in the wind and snow that day.

Paige is prepared for cold weather
Flash forward to this mid-March day and the sun was up, the sky was that deep blue that seems to hover only over Crater Lake, and the crater rim was cloaked in several feet of snow. Oh yeah, there was that lake thingy reposing in the crater itself, the sapphire blue of the water having its own reserved parking spot, so to speak, in the color spectrum parking garage. Lulu enjoyed the snow so much she had to eat it every time we paused in our walk along the crater rim. Of course, Lulu is a dog but there were two other humans in our party besides your merry blogster: Glen and his daughter Paige, who continually referred to Lulu as Wuwu. 

Whitebark pine against an amazing blue sky
Despite the sun, we remained clad in snow clothing and layers as the wind blowing on the rim was downright arctic. The problem was that every time our route dropped down below the actual rim, the wind was blocked and we roasted in the bright sun. However, we mostly kept our gear on because that wind was present at every viewpoint along the rim. Hot, cold, hot, cold, and no happy medium in between. 

Wizard Island, afloat in the lake
Our route was Rim Drive, quite free of tour buses, RVs, and other touristy means of transportation this time of year. In winter, the erstwhile road is well used by snowshoers and skiiers alike and following the well-trod route was eminently easy. The snow was old, having gone through the melt, freeze, remelt, and refreeze process many times over during the winter. For us, that meant the snow was hard and sort of icy, making for easy snowshoeing. You almost didn't need the snowshoes and we did see one couple actually hiking in their boots atop the crusty surface of the snow.

The Watchman and Hillman Peak
rule the western side of the rim
After a mile or so, we hit the first of two main viewpoints, the first being Discovery Point, so named to commemorate the place (sort of) where John Hillman discovered Crater Lake. I get sort of cheesed by the "discovery" of Crater Lake being attributed to Hilllman because the native tribes in the area were well aware of the existence of the lake, but they don't count, apparently. Also, nobody really knows the exact spot that Hillman first spotted the lake but since it could have been at Discovery Point, a plaque commemorating the event marks the hypothetical spot. All this silly and irritating history aside, Discovery Point has an awesome view that was worth the snowshoeing effort to get there.

The peaks of the south end of the lake
Discovery Point lies on the southwestern corner of the lake ("corner" he said, ignoring the fact that the lake is round and doesn't have any corners) and a series of snowy and rugged peaks (Garfield Peak, Applegate Peak, Dutton Cliffs, and Mount Scott) marched in stately procession with Mount Scott leading the charge on the eastern side. To the north was our immediate neighbor The Watchman with fraternal mountain Hillman Peak parked right next to The Watchman. Down in the lake itself was Wizard Island, permanently afloat in the Crater Lake stewpot, with the imposing cliffs of Llao Rock looming over the north side of the lake. Beyond the lake, the tops of Timber Crater and Mount Thielsen were just visible. And always, the stunning sapphire color of Crater Lake itself. Amazing vista and this is why we hike, boys and girls.

Rock 'n roll!
After a round of appropriate oohs and ahs, we continued on up and over a ridge to the next viewpoint. This portion of the snowshoe trek is my favorite non-Crater Lake related part of the short hike. Rim Drive curves up and over the ridge with a steep slope on either side of the road cut. It probably doesn't look like all that much in summer but in winter it's a snow-covered canyon in miniature, replete with cornices, flutings, and other wind-driven snow formations. Rocks had rolled down from above, leaving tracks in the snow that culminated with the body of the culpable party just sitting there, with nowhere else to roll.

Perfectly smooth, like me!
The second viewpoint has a similar vista as Discovery Point, the view changing only in angle of orientation, due to our being a mile further along the rim. Wizard Island was a lot closer though, and we raptly gazed at the magical cone, totally enchanted and entranced at the spellbinding island. Behind us, on the landward side of the rim, was a snowy expanse that I refer to as the "Ski Bowl". Normally, this area is criss-crossed with ski tracks and you can almost feel the skiers' joy as they play in this wintry wonderland. However, today there were no tracks at all, just rolling hills of snow with the most perfect texture. It would have been a shame to mar the perfect smoothness of the snow with our snowshoes so we just looked and did not touch.

Mount McLaughlin and Union Peak have a staredown
After a windy laze taking in the awesome view while one of our quartet ate snow, we turned around and headed back towards Rim Village. Since we had hiked mostly downhill on the way out, it naturally was mostly uphill on the way in. But the grade was not severe, and legs did not complain too much about having to transport our respective torsos to a higher elevation. We stared at jagged and cragged Garfield Peak on the way in, with a nice view of Union Peak and massive Mount McLaughlin well off the crater's rim to the southwest. 

What a difference from nearly two weeks ago!

After the trip ended, we enjoyed a restorative lunch at the Crater Lake restaurant in Rim Village. This would be like the last "normal" activity we'd do for a while as the coronavirus pandemic came in a day or two later for an extended and unwelcome stay. It makes me wish for things as they were, even if it means snowshoeing in severe weather. What a difference a week or two can make, indeed.

Texture on a snow drift
For more photos of this hike, please visit the Flickr album.


  1. Ok, this was fine until you put the picture caption "smooth like me". Bad visual. By the way, you have replaced me with another Glen? Hang in there and keep hiking despite thie virus thing....probably the best place to be is on a trail with nature!

  2. I have done this exact hike twice and lucked out with clear skies both times. Your post makes me want to go there again - although due to the coronavirus, probably not this year. Take care!